tv NBC Nightly News NBC December 13, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PST
on the broadcast tonight, not at the wheel, phone calls, texting, e-mails, millions of us do it every day, even at the wheel. well, tonight there's an extraordinary new push to ban all of it. a wild year for a presidential election. our new poll is out tonight. we'll tell you what it says about the candidates, the voters, and a possible twist we haven't seen in years. courtroom surprise. when his accusers came to confront jerry sandusky. what happens now in the penn state sexual abuse case? and home for the holidays. an early christmas today. emotional reunions for hundreds of families who have sacrificed so much for their country. "nightly news" begins now. captions paid for by nbc-universal television
good evening. tonight an agency of the federal government has decided that texting, e-mailing or talking on a cell phone while driving a car is simply too dangerous and should be outlawed in this country. all of it by all of us. this comes from the national transportation safety board. the ntsb, the very serious folks who investigate airline crashes among other things. and their advice is likely to carry a lot of weight. they've determined too many people are dying because of distracted driving, and they want it outlawed. of course, here's what they're up against, the millions of us who drive distracted on occasion, especially those of us who think we're fine, it's the other drivers who present the greatest danger on the road. well, it's about to become a bigger issue than it already is. we begin tonight with nbc's tom costello in washington. tom, good evening. >> reporter: hi, brian. the government says at any given moment, 1 out of 100 drivers you
pass on the road is texting while driving. the ntsb calls it an epidemic, says too many people, thousands of people, are dying, and it has to end. investigators say this fatal chain reaction crash involving two school buses in missouri last year, was caused by a 19-year-old pickup driver texting while driving. 11 texts in 11 minutes. today, after years of similar reports, the ntsb said it's heard enough. >> no one can drive safely when they're distracted. >> reporter: today, the safety board called on all 50 states and d.c. to ban the use of all portable electronic devices for all drivers. exceptions would only be made for emergencies and gps units, but not hands free devices. at the moment, 35 states ban texting while driving. ten and d.c. ban handheld devices. but no states have the kind of total ban the ntsb wants. >> we need to stand up and say, this is not acceptable behavior.
>> reporter: under a new refined reporting system, the government says there were 3,092 fatalities as a result of distracted driving in 2010. meanwhile, roughly 20% of all drivers, and 50% of drivers between 21 and 24 years of age admit to having texted while driving. >> she was looking at my message i had just sent her. she was actually ejected through the driver's side door. >> reporter: public service campaigns like this one launched by at&t have tried to drive home the dangers of distracted driving. >> four little letters, that's what killed her. >> i sent one stupid, meaningless text, lol, and killed a man. >> reporter: today the wireless industry declined comment on any potential ban, instead called for new products and services, including those that can disable the driver's mobile device. in los angeles, mixed reaction. >> a complete ban of any cell phone use in your car, i don't think i would support that. >> i could live without it.
i lived without it for 30 years, why not now? >> we know that this recommendation is going to be very unpopular with some people. but we're not here to win a popularity contest. >> reporter: the ntsb says hands free devices are covered, because it believes distracted drivers who are talking on a hands free device are still distracted and leading to terrible crashes. now, a total ban may seem unlikely at this point, however, you might see insurance companies and corporations enact their own rules that would apply to employees and policy holders. so this does have some real possibility going-forward, brian? >> we're going to hear a lot more about this. and tom, you be careful out there. tom costello tonight in washington. we turn to presidential politics. tonight according to some of the very best people in the business of measuring the mood of the american electorate, there's reason to believe, and numbers to support this theory, that the
united states is approaching a tumultuous and, perhaps, game-changing election year. we've never seen the voting attitude exactly the way it is now. tonight we're going to take a few minutes here to talk about this because of some data that was shared with us today. we have a new nbc news/wall street journal poll debuting here tonight. but more than that, we have the pollster himself and the rest of our veteran political team with us. our political director chuck todd is here, as is the pollster peter hart, "meet the press" moderator david gregory, and from washington, nbc's andrea mitchell. and chuck, let's start with the hard numbers today and what they tell us. >> this poll that we have tonight is a tale of two republicans with their own set of electability problems. let's start with mitt romney, his electability problem is getting the republican nomination. as you can see, newt gingrich has surged to 40%. that is the highest number any republican has had in the calendar year of 2011, since we've started polling this primary. when the race shrinks down to
three candidates, gingrich, romney, paul, gingrich's lead expands. 53% to romney's 31%. what is romney's electability problem? it is simply one word, ideology. 70% of republicans call themselves conservative. 57% believe newt gingrich is one of them. only 29% believe mitt romney is a conservative. that's the reason. newt gingrich has an electability problem, but that is in a general election. mitt romney and barack obama would be a neck and neck race. 47 to 45 according to our poll. newt gingrich, different story. 51% for the president, just 40% for newt gingrich. independent voters really are sour on newt gingrich. look at this number, we asked, who could you just not vote for? newt gingrich hits the 50% mark. half the country says they just could not vote for gingrich under any circumstances. for obama and romney it's 44 and 45 respectively. to hit the 50% mark, though, a big deal. why? because newt gingrich's image is the same as it was in october 1998, the last time we polled
him as speaker of the house. look at this 27 to 46 in 1998. his positive/negative rating now, 24 to 40. so two republicans, who different electability problems. >> peter hart, you've been in this game a long time, you and your partner came and briefed our staff today. i don't think i've ever heard your assessment the way it was today. give us the view of this country from, as they say, 50,000 feet. >> from up above, it's terrible. direction of the country, 70% the wrong direction. how are people feeling about this year? one of the worst years. when they look at this congress, they say, this is the worst congress i've seen. every element, how do i feel about the economy? how do i feel about america going forward? every element, the american public comes up negative. there's no sense of optimism, there's no sense of hope. >> now, you were saying earlier today, if this is a so-called referendum election, which is a type of election that taps into
a certain voter anger, it could be perilous for the current president? >> absolutely. because if it's an up or down with 29% saying, i think the country's going in the right direction, you just can't make it. the sense of the president and the economy, he can't make it, but if it's a choice election, how do i choose between the two? well, you just heard what chuck said. neither of the republican candidates look all that good to the american public. three flawed candidates. >> now, are you talking about a potential entry for a third party this year being a ripe possibility? >> well, as bill mcinturff, my co-partner, he says, expect the unexpected. one of the unexpecteds is expect a third candidate in the race, and to make a substantial difference. that will help president obama. >> david gregory, there's a very energized right word facet of
the republican party out there. what's fuelling it, and what manifestation could we see? >> well, the tea party sentiment. the tea party sentiment is driving the sentiment of the conservative base. and that's where newt gingrich does well. and that's where romney is coming up short. what peter and chuck is describing is something we don't exactly know yet, in terms of what's happening inside the republican party. they're rejecting the establishment candidate, and they're going back to a guy who 13 years to the day of the iowa caucuses, had his last day as speaker of the house. that's newt gingrich. he can take the fight to obama, he can debate well. so, yes, he's erratic, he's still viewed very negatively. but he's leading that charge. there's so much emotion, and passion in this campaign right now, brian, i think that's what is the driving force on the right. >> and andrea mitchell in washington, i spoke to a veteran of the social wars in this country of a few decades back, who said, look for the summer of
2012, if this all -- if this spark becomes a prairie fire, look for the summer of 2012, when we have two political conventions to look a lot more like the summer of '68 perhaps. >> well, it could happen, because you've got so much anger, so much frustration. the numbers that peter cites and that chuck has cited show there is an extraordinary disaffection, a hopelessness, helplessness and anger at congress and at all institutions. there's no respect for anything except perhaps the military here. and with that kind of anger building, and you have the occupy folks on one side, the tea party anger on the other, the possibility of a third-party candidate, i think you could see a startling coalescing of forces with these two parties. you don't know what to expect and it's all been so unpredictable until now. >> peter hart, it's safe to say, we haven't seen this country in this shape before, and we certainly haven't seen the
electorate look like this before? >> anger is all around. and the thing that most disappoints people in 2011, and that is the declining middle class, the rich are getting richer. >> chuck, peter, david, andrea mitchell in washington, thank you all. and one more note from our poll, 75% call this year's congress either below average or one of the worst ever. that's a low in u.s. history. and the battling over taxes on capitol hill grinds on tonight with a stand-off over executing the payroll tax cut. kelly o'donnell on duty tonight on the hill is with us from washington. hey, kelly, good evening. >> reporter: hi there, brian. well, i have more of what makes the public so angry. another down to the wire battle. 160 million americans could see their taxes go up in a couple weeks, and the government runs out of money to fund itself this saturday. both parties thought they had reached a big deal to keep the government operating, but the white house said that congress
must first act to cut the payroll tax cut extension and unemployment benefits. well, tonight the house that with a smattering of democratic votes. they did pass a republican plan. president obama says he will veto it, in part because it contains an oil pipeline project. so that leaves us with the problem of the threat of a government shutdown, and the possibility of higher taxes and no end in sight. brian? >> kelly o'donnell on capitol hill tonight. kelly, thanks. how about an item from the natural world, one place in this country where it's beginning to look a lot like christmas, the desert southwest. a major winter storm system, rotating in from the pacific ocean blanketed the interior of southern california as well as portions of arizona, new mexico, colorado and utah. we'll take a break here. up next, as we continue on a tuesday night, former penn state coach jerry sandusky heads to court, where his accusers had planned to confront him face to face, and then the unexpected happened.
and it came to a sudden and screeching halt today. it was all over in two minutes, as one mother put it, a disappointment for several young men who had gotten up very early on a frigid day to come to court and face jerry sandusky, the former assistant coach at penn state, who they now accuse of molesting them. michael isikoff was in court for what was supposed to be sandusky's preliminary hearing. >> reporter: jerry sandusky arrived at the courthouse with wife dottie, and escorted by local police and sheriff's deputies. >> mr. sandusky, how are you feeling about facing your accusers, sir? are you looking forward to it? >> reporter: but then a courtroom surprise. the defense lawyer, joe amendola asked the judge for a sidebar. and judge robert scott announced sandusky was waiving his right to a preliminary hearing.
there would be no testimony today. >> we're going to put together the best possible defense that exists. stay the course to fight for four quarters. >> reporter: prosecutors were prepared to call 11 witnesses, many of them alleged victims in what promised to be explosive testimony laying out the state's case in detail for the first time. one potential witness, penn state assistant coach, mike mcqueary, who's claim he reported seeing sandusky sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy in 2002, has been disputed by other witnesses. last night, amendola decided to waive the preliminary hearing. after prosecutors warned him they would try to limit his ability to challenge the credibility of the witnesses on cross-examination. >> this is a fight to the death. this is the fight of jerry sandusky's life. this goes beyond the penn state/miami game in '86. this is the game of his life. >> reporter: nbc news chief legal analyst savannah guthrie. >> it's really a tradeoff. on the one hand, the defense loses the opportunity to assess the accuser's credibility in court, their demeanor. but at the same time, they have avoided days upon days of bad
publicity. >> reporter: the postponement was most painful for sandusky's alleged victims. >> he's a coward for not showing up and facing them today. once they were prepared and gone through the wrenching gut check of getting ready to do this, depriving them of a chance to tell their story to his face. >> reporter: but they'll get another chance if there's no plea deal and this case goes to trial. michael isikoff, nbc news, bellefonte, pennsylvania. up here next tonight, there's something you should know about those plans to cut back at the post office. and a plan to do something about the volume of what you're about to see, commercials on television.
planned closing of those 252 regional sorting centers. now delayed until may while senate democrats try to pass the funding to save them. and they say it doesn't happen officially, but it happens and we've all heard them and complained about them. the television commercials that air at a higher volume than what you're currently watching on television. the fcc is acting on it, putting out an order to crack down on it. it will go into effect a year from now. by the way, speaking of polling, a recent harris poll says 86% of the viewers find the commercials louder than the programs. and the feds over the years have received thousands of complaints about it. now to something hard to hear, but there's a good reason for that. >> that's a recording made by alexander graham bell from the
1880s, and it's one of several that has been packed away at the smithsonian for 100 years. played publicly for the first time today, now that they have the technology to play them. the museum has 400 of the earliest recordings of any kind documenting nothing short than the birth of a medium. and a while back we brought you the story of a giant sequoia and its companion tree that fell over in california's national forest that's named for the majestic trees. well, the u.s. forest service asked for suggestions about what to do about the trees. now they're proposing a boardwalk be built that would reconnect the trail of the so-called 100 giants that was cut off by the two trees that fell. the elevated boardwalk would also allow people to get a good look at these downed trees, which would, of course, then stay right where they are. up next here tonight, proof on the home front that america's long war in iraq really is coming to an end.
home and reunited at long last with their friends and family. today at ft. bliss in el paso, what has become a familiar happy scene. a plane load of men and women in uniform, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, finished their long journey home. and nbc's janet shamlian was there. >> reporter: a wait that has lasted months is just moments from being over. >> right now, for some reason, i am pretty nervous. >> byron bought flowers for his wife. and the medrano children are making signs for their dad, carlos. returning from his fourth and final deployment to iraq. >> i'm happy because he's coming home. and i know he's coming home alive. >> reporter: but among the friends and family, two small sisters are blissfully unaware today is the day. >> it's going to be like them opening one of their biggest presents on christmas morning seeing him. >> reporter: ashley hopkins told her daughters they were here to welcome someone else's father home.
sergeant brian hopkins has missed birthdays and anniversaries, but he won't miss christmas. for the past few weeks the auditorium here at ft. bliss has looked just like this, full of families and heavy with anticipation, as another plane load of troops arrives home. >> reporter: as the soldiers walk toward their families, lillian realizes the homecoming is her father. >> daddy! >> reporter: the initial reunions are quick. soldiers have to be debriefed and return their weapons. and then they can return to their families. >> i missed you. are we going to play now? >> it's great to be home. it's great. i missed them so much. >> reporter: there may be other deployments and more time away, but for now the iraq chapter of their service comes to a close. and this is time for family. janet shamlian, nbc news, el paso. >> what a great story to end on
tonight. our thanks to all of our veterans for their service. and that's our broadcast on a tuesday evening. thank you for being with us. i'm brian williams, and we hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com this is not the way we'd like to run california. we have to live within our me s means. >> what's being asked and what's being saved and the one group of taxpayers that could help turn it all around. thanks for joining us this evening. i'm janelle wang in forage. >> i'm jessica agery. to the govern or moving forwards